Updated May 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden recalls horror of Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Holocaust remembrance speech

Joe Biden delivers remarks at a Cinco de Mayo reception at the White House in Washington D.C., United States on May 6

Joe Biden at a White House event on May 6. Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images

President Biden delivered a forceful rebuke of rising antisemitism in the U.S. and the horrors of Hamas' Oct. 7 attack during his keynote address at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's annual Days of Remembrance ceremony Tuesday.

Why it matters: Antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents have surged nationwide since the outset of the Israel-Hamas war, which has become a flashpoint on college campuses.

The big picture: "'Never again,' simply translated for me, means 'never forget,'" Biden said, recalling his own efforts to pass knowledge of the Holocaust down to his family, including by taking his grandchildren to visit the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

  • The president drew a throughline from the Holocaust to the Oct. 7 attack, saying that the "ancient hatred of Jews" was "brought to life" during the attack.
  • Many people are "denying, downplaying, rationalizing, ignoring" the horrors of both events, including Hamas' use of sexual violence, Biden said.
  • "I'm calling on all Americans to stand united against antisemitism and hate, in all its forms," Biden said.

State of play: The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled a series of new initiatives to combat rising antisemitism across the U.S.

  • The administration has previously responded to reports of antisemitism at colleges by opening investigations into the alleged instances of discrimination, according to a White House fact sheet.
  • The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued new guidance to school districts and colleges across the country "providing examples of Antisemitic discrimination, as well as other forms of hate, that could lead to investigations" from the department.
  • The Department of Homeland Security will work with interagency partners to create an online campus safety resources guide for schools.
  • DHS is also set to "develop and share best practices" for preventing community-based targeted attacks.
  • The Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism will work with tech companies to "identify best practices to address Antisemitic content online."

Context: This year's remembrance at the Holocaust Museum is "particularly sobering" since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel, "the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust," per the White House fact sheet.

  • The fact sheet noted "instances of violence and hate during some protests at college campuses across the Nation."
  • The Hamas attack on Oct. 7 killed at least 1,100 people, with dozens of hostages still unaccounted for. The war in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians since October.

Flashback: President Biden last week defended students' right to protest but condemned the "chaos" of violent demonstrations.

  • "There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind, whether it's antisemitism, Islamophobia or discrimination against Arab-Americans or Palestinian-Americans. It's simply wrong," Biden said.

Zoom out: Over the past several months, school administrations have struggled to balance students' rights to free expression via protest with campus needs for inclusivity and safety. Many administrations have opted for calling in law enforcement or threatening suspensions and expulsions.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include remarks from President Biden's speech.

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